Young and old to compete in the Con Brio Music Festival |

Young and old to compete in the Con Brio Music Festival

The Con Brio Music Festival, sponsored by the Utah Conservatory, will celebrate its eighth anniversary when composers, pianists and vocalists converge on Park City Community Church Friday and Saturday, March 23 and March 24.

The festival was co-founded by chairman Mike Vermillion and Eugene Watanabe, the gold medalist of the first Gina Bachauer International Young Artist Competition that was held in Salt Lake City in 1987.

"It was Eugene’s idea and then he kind of dumped it on me," Vermillion said with a laugh during an interview with The Park Record. "We wanted to create a festival that was a two-to-three day event full of concerts, with the main point being a competition."

The festival has always opened with a piano recital by the piano-competition judge on Friday, Vermillion said.

"The first year, the opening piano recital was performed by award-winning pianist Leon Fleischer," he said. "This year, our piano judge is Dr. Paul Higdon from St. Louis, Missouri."

Higdon is an associate professor of music at St. Louis Community College and frequent guest conductor of the Florissant Valley Symphony Orchestra in Missouri.

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"We’re lucky to be able have him perform and judge for us," Vermillion said.

Saturday’s events will consist of competitions running all day, beginning at 9 a.m.

The categories are piano solo, piano concerto, vocal solo and compositions, Vermillion said.

"Each category is divided into grades," he said. "The piano solo, concerto and composition groups are kindergarten through third grade, fourth through seventh, eighth through 12th, collegiate and adult."

Likewise the vocal-solo grade groups are kindergarten through fifth, sixth through eighth, ninth through 12th, collegiate and adult.

"Competitors range from kindergarten ages to the mid-60s, but I really don’t know the age of the oldest competitor," Vermillion said.

The festival competitions originally featured piano, string, composition and vocals.

"Since then, we’ve dropped the strings and kept the piano and vocals, but added piano concerto, and when someone enters the composition category, they can play their piece on any instrument," Vermillion explained. "The composition category has been a part of the Con Brio Music Festival for six years."

The first couple of years, the competitions were only open to Utah Conservatory students and held at the conservatory, located at Kimball Junction.

"It was really elementary and the students would come in with their method-book pieces and play them," Vermillion said. "As we have grown, the level of the playing has really elevated, and four years ago, we opened it up to any music student who wants to apply."

This year the festival received inquiries from Arizona.

"It’s exciting to see how much we have grown," Vermillion said. "We used to hold it at the conservatory, but as the numbers grew, we had to find someplace bigger."

Park City Community Church is an ideal venue for the festival.

"We run the performances at the same time, which makes the community church the perfect place," Vermillion said. "On one side of the church we have the sanctuary for the piano competition and then the vocal competition is held on the other side."

Throughout the years, Vermillion has seen the quality of competitors rise, as well.

"Now, we hear pieces from Beethoven to 20th century composers like Stravinsky," he said. "That has attracted a lot more people, so, it shows we’re still growing, and that’s what we always wanted to do."

The competitions, like the opening recital, are also open to the public.

"As long as people are respectful and don’t disturb the performers, they can come and watch," Vermillion said. "Personally, my favorite thing is to watch the fourth- through seventh-graders play, and I invite a lot of people to those sessions.

"Also, if people want to come to the vocal performances, they are welcome to do so," he said.

The public is also invited to the awards ceremonies and to the winners concert that close the festival on Saturday night.

"Those who win first and second place will perform during the awards recital," he said.

Vermillion, a piano teacher at the Utah Conservatory, said he is constantly amazed at the playing and performing level of the pianists, composers and vocalists.

"I see that I didn’t have the structure and discipline when I was as young as some of these kids were," he said. "During the past four or five years, we’ve seen kids return year after year and to see their growth and maturity is incredible.

"Some of these kids spend four hours in school and then spend six to eight hours practicing," he said. "I couldn’t do that when I was their age. As I got older, it became easier, but it was something I couldn’t do, and seeing how much dedication they have for their music is inspiring and wonderful."

The eighth annual Con Brio Music Festival will be held at Park City Community Church, 4501 S.R. 224, on Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24. Friday’s opening piano recital by Dr. Paul Higdon will begin at 7 p.m. The competitions will run Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m., and the Con Brio Awards Recital will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit .